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Choosing the right business solution is crucial in this digital age

The Coronavirus pandemic has resulted in profound changes to the UK tiling industry, and nowhere has this been more clearly seen that in the digital realm.

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The Coronavirus pandemic has resulted in profound changes to the UK tiling industry, and nowhere has this been more clearly seen that in the digital realm.

Some of the changes, such as the growth in on-line tile retailing, would probably have happened in any case. But the rate of change has been quite staggering. One of the UK’s online pioneers saw year-on-year sales leap 85% in the 12 months following the first lockdown, and by a quite phenomenal 120% in the succeeding 12 months. Think about it: already established for several years prior to the Pandemic, this successful 100% online-only retailer has quadrupled its sales in the past two years, despite the upheaval caused by this unprecedented world-wide health crisis.

But online retailing is just one strand of the current digital revolution. With the growth in working from home, companies have had to adjust their marketing strategies according. In the first lockdown, billboards alongside major commuting routes, or panel ads in tube carriages, suddenly looked rather pointless. But so did lavish showrooms, CPD presentations in architects’ offices, mass participation trade exhibitions, and printed catalogues bound for specification libraries. The UK tile sector, like so many others, needed fresh marketing strategies, and nimbler tactics.

So, alongside many distributors and retailers investing in online sales sites - some even entering this arena for the first time - what else has changed in the tile sector so far? Well the first answer is, inevitably, a switch from face-to-face meetings to Zoom, Teams, or another video conferencing platform. This has proved invaluable in a truly global industry faced with different countries adopting different pandemic response strategies at different times. But it still leaves the problem of product presentation in an industry where subtle visual and tactile differences are so crucial. So better sample boxes, and enhanced AV presentations, have also become more and more important.

The truly global nature of the tile sector has allowed the more switched on manufacturers, distributors, and retailers to rapidly react to changes in consumer behaviour - both home owners and professional specifiers - and adjust their business model accordingly. With so much clear analytical data available from internet searches, page impressions, YouTube views, etc, it is now possible to really drill down and produce crisply targeted marketing campaigns. However, it is equally easy to spend millions on SEO 'experts' chasing a high Google ranking ... and achieve nothing in terms of improving the bottom line.

So what are the key digital battlegrounds for the tile sector in the years ahead. I see more and more companies moving away from blunderbuss marketing towards the sniper’s rifle. By that I mean really precise and structured campaigns looking at specific sectors, companies, and even individuals.

Remaining mass marketing strategies – such as exhibitions and display advertising – will be adapted to reflect consumer trends emerging in digital research. Companies will be seeking the best response to the fact that pink tiles was the most search tiling term during the pandemic, or that a Geordie handyman has had over 1.4 million You Tube views for his phone-filmed 'how to remove old silicone' video.

Companies also need to respond to the realities of the modern construction sector in a post-Amazon environment. Customers now expect next day delivery, 100% stock availability, and free sampling; all with the knowledge that they can price compare with a few clicks of a mouse. This requires slick software, massive capital investment, excellent logistics partners, and a bullet-proof business model.

CPD presentations are increasingly virtual, and the mobile phone has replaced print media as the go-to information source. Behance, Instagram, and TikTok are now what workers would chat about around the watercooler, if offices still had watercoolers … and there were still workers to chat around them.

The good news? Well, for everything from inventory management to social media marketing, there are experts out there to help guide you through the digital minefield. I have one piece of advice: always check the tile-specific credentials of these experts. Your investment is much more likely to prove beneficial if your chosen partners both understand the digital space, and also the very specific peculiarities of the ceramic tile sector.

Onwards and upwards!

Joe Simpson
Editor, Tile & Stone Journal


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